Nobody expects a British withdrawal, apparently (with a nod to Monty Python), including UKIP. As soon as Brexit has apparently won, Farage has disavowed his pledge to divert UK’s EU contributions to NHS, the British national health service whose relative dysfunction compared to, say, its Continental European counterparts had been the subject of much discontent. Of course, that Farage should have “conceded” (as if he was the main representative of the pro-Brexit crowd) as soon as the exit polls were in, but the actual results were not, was a giveaway that he did not want to win and did not expect to in the first place.
Without a serious prospect (or so people thought) of Brexit, putting all sorts of blame on Brussels and promising the wonderful and beautiful things that could be done (nevermind if they are realistic) with the resources being diverted thither is easy. Brexit would lose and they would not be in position of having to put them up, but, in the short term, enjoy a surge in popularity arising from the widespread discontent with the status quo.
Of course, however, the discontent was even more widespread than expected. Brexit was taken seriously, and people who supported it are now expecting something productive–even if they may not be sure what that entails. Of course, there is a deeper rot: if Brexit is so terrible and irresponsible, it should never have enjoyed such strong influence in the first place. Why did Brexit gain enough popularity to actually win? This suggests that much of the blame, then, belongs to the blase and nearsighted incumbent elites who have governed in London over last four decades: who were so confident of their own righteousness that they were oblivious to the problems building up and did not do enough to keep the discontent from boiling over, beyond pointing fingers. In other words, the fiasco that will surely befall Britain now is the joint production of both opportunistic Euroskeptics and the myopic elites.
Something similar is brewing on this side of the Atlantic too: I honestly wonder if Trump expected to be where he is now. He really does sound quite clueless and unduly irresponsible. For all we know, the entire thing probably was a publicity stunt to improve the visibility of his business undertakings. Yet, the smugness of the Democratic establishment might just be enough to push Trump to victory in November in spite of himself. Then what?
Expect every UK politician to dither and duck for as long as possible. It would be foolish, even if the referendum is not “legally binding,” for anyone to disregard it. However, it does offer no timetable or specific mandates and there is ample room for the actual politicians to avoid the topic head on for a long time. Actually pushing the Article 50 button will destroy any serious politician who dares it, after all.